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Deer in headlights or on a plate - Kathy Jefcoats

As you cross into Clayton County, there is a black and yellow sign warning you about the possibility of deer crossing for the next five miles. The first time I read it I laughed out loud. I think there should be such a sign at all entries into Georgia. "We're glad Georgia is on your mind. Watch for deer. We're not kidding."

Don't get me wrong. I love deer. More specifically, I guess, I love venison. Nothing like a big ole slab of deer roasted just right and hot on a plate. Now that's good eats, to quote my favorite television cook, Alton Brown. I'd rather see deer on a plate than deer in my headlights, I can tell you that.

Until 1998, I had always counted myself fortunate that I never collided with a deer. I'd sit and listen to other drivers bemoan the fact they "hit another deer," smugly satisfied that I am too good a driver to befall that fate. I worked from 1988-1997 in Jones and Twiggs counties (read "rural"), where the deer and their families play, so I saw hundreds of the four-legged fender-benders along the side of the road as I traveled between the two counties. I never met one in the road and felt I was gifted.

Almost a year after I left the paper in Jones County, I was driving through late, after midnight, from Macon to South Carolina where my folks live. I was heading up Highway 129 in front of an 18-wheeler, which was so close behind me, I could have read a book by the headlights. So when I prepared to round a curve at the county line with Putnam and saw the deer in the roadway, I couldn't really brake hard. I slowed and hit my horn. The deer, which was facing west and could have pranced right off the road without encountering me, instead turned east and ran right in front of my car. Fortunately, I had slowed enough so that the deer almost gently slid onto my roof and off the driver's side onto the highway. The impact on my end was minimal. My air bag didn't even deploy.

I eased off the road. The trucker, naturally, just kept going. Didn't check to see if I was OK or even needed help. He left me in that remote area, alone and stranded. I couldn't believe it. Aren't there some rules of the road here? Didn't he at least have a moral obligation to see if I was OK or needed help? I guess he didn't think so. He didn't even call to send help my way.

Of course, I was in such a remote area that my cell phone wouldn't work. I went to use the pay phone outside the closed convenience store and couldn't get through. It was like a nightmare I have had before where I needed to make a call and keep getting a buzzing on the line or the buttons don't work.

Anyway, I finally just got an operator who called the Jones County Sheriff's Department. It was the department I knew well, from Sheriff Butch Reece to road deputies to investigators to radio dispatchers. I was never so happy to hear Ed Barbee's voice when he answered the phone. He sent out Deputy Melvin Johnson, again, an old buddy.

Melvin is also a shade tree mechanic so he checked out my car while he wrote up a report for my insurance. He said it was OK to continue driving, so I went on my way to Mom's. The hood was just smashed down like an elephant had taken a seat.

What surprised me was how mad I was at the deer. If the stupid animal had just ran off the road, he'd still be alive and I wouldn't have to put my car in the shop for 10 days while I drove a rental. Whenever I pass that same way now, I always curse the deer and long for some venison stew.

Kathy Jefcoats is the public safety reporter for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at kjefcoats@henryherald.com.